DEARBORN, Mich. -- After years topping the best-seller charts with models based on the third generation of model-year 2005, Honda's Odyssey minivan rolls out of a Honda manufacturing plant in Lincoln, Ala., in an edgy new design for 2011 models.
The revamped 2011 Honda Odyssey, configured in a wider stance with more cabin space and three tiers of seats for as many as eight passengers, dresses in an enhanced aerodynamic package and stocks a high-tech V6 powertrain which delivers class-leading fuel economy figures.
Honda introduced the Odyssey in 1995 as cast on a platform borrowed from the popular Accord sedan and equipped with the then-novel concept of not one but two doors on the flanks.
That original Odyssey focused on a sedan-height chassis and user-friendly interior features, as Honda incorporated favored traits of rival minivans and developed creative new concepts driven by Honda's research of the minivan market.
A second design for Odyssey emerged in 1999 on a larger and broader platform and the floor still set low like a car so you could step inside or climb out easily.
Making a van more like a car has always been the big idea behind the minivan, of course, but until Honda's designs appeared no other automaker dared to structure and equip a minivan with so many car-like comforts.
The third generational design for Odyssey appeared in 2005 with room for as many as eight riders in an expanded structure with class-capping power and innovations for seat configuration, powertrain performance and personal safety.
Now comes the next-generation Odyssey of 2011 constructed on an expanded unibody structure. Overall exterior length of 202.9 inches measures 0.8 inches longer than the previous-generation Odyssey, as the width of 79.2 inches runs 2.1 inches wider and the roof height of 68.4 inches drops by 0.4 inches for a lowered stance which enhances the vehicle's aerodynamics by 5.5 percent.
Space inside Odyssey's passenger compartment expands to 172.6 cubic feet, which is 1.2 cubic feet more than the interior volume of the 2010 Odyssey.
To mark the 2011 new editions, note the crisp design of Odyssey's shell which features a raked face with massive six-sided grille ringed in chrome and bisected by parallel wing slats.
Large corner headlamp clusters contain projector headlights or optional auto-leveling bi-xenon high intensity discharge (HID) lamps.
Flanks reveal muscular fenders with bulges over wheelwells and a unique beltline (Honda dubs it a "lightning bolt") which dips at the third side window to vary the line and create a larger window for better visibility by third-row riders.
Inside the cabin, every Odyssey stocks three rows of seats.
The first row shows two tall captain's chairs with broader seats to accommodate a variety of American body sizes.
Seats on the second row move around to several positions for flexibility in hauling people and cargo.
Three of the five trim grades on Odyssey 2011 add a jump seat on the second tier to forge a three-person bench to achieve the minivan's eight-person capacity. Three child seats will fit on second-row seats, and the middle section slides forward for easier reach from the front-row. And all second-row seats fold, tip, slide or pop out easily.
Reaching second-row seats is also easy: Just open a door, slip aboard and buckle up. Access comes from either side due to the dual sliding doors, and without bending and scooting or crawling.
Reaching the third tier's bench (wide enough for three kids or two adults) requires a little more effort, but not so to fold it flat into the floor because this thing tips and tucks into a well in the floor. Legroom on the back bench of 42.4 inches tops the minivan class of 2011.
Behind the third tier is adequate storage space, but with the flexible seat system there are dozens of configurations for people and cargo. Maximum cargo room with second-row seats removed and the third row folded amounts to a cavernous 148.5 cubic feet.
Honda equips the 2011 Odyssey with responsive handling systems and a powerful V6 engine plus an extensive list of standard gear for safety.
The aluminum V6 engine with 3.5-liter displacement, a drive-by-wire throttle and Honda's 'intelligent' i-VTEC (variable value timing and lift electronic control) valvetrain, produces 248 hp at 5700 rpm plus torque numbers of 250 lb-ft at 4800 rpm.
The plant also features Honda's engine-modification mechanism which goes by the acronym of VCM, meaning variable cylinder management. It can switch from six to four or down to three cylinders, depending on the power demand at any particular moment. And the operation is totally automatic and virtually transparent to a driver, with a dashboard light glowing when the VCM is at work.
Standard transmission for all but the two top trims is Honda's electronically controlled five-speed automatic; the top two employ an electronic six-speed automatic.
Fuel economy rating for Odyssey's powertrains top the minivan class: 18/27 mpg (City/Highway) with the five-speed automatic, or 19/28 mpg (City/Highway) with the six-speed.
Brakes include a big disc at each wheel tied to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with brake assist (BA) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD), a traction control system (TCS) plus vehicle stability assist (VSA).
Passive safety gear consists of frontal and side-impact air bags for the two front seats and curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above outboard seats on all rows.
Honda builds the 2011 Odyssey in five trims -- LX, EX, EX-L (Leather), Touring and Touring Elite.
Base model Odyssey LX contains seats for seven with cloth upholstery and manual sliding side doors, eight-way power controls for the driver's seat, front and rear manual air conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks, a tilting/telescoping steering wheel, auto-off projector headlamps, cruise control, a trip computer, ten cupholders and a five-speaker audio system with AM/FM/CD/MP3.
Top model Odyssey Touring Elite brings fancy features like fine leather upholstery, a blind-spot warning system, bi-xenon headlamps, power for side slider doors and tailgate, a widescreen (16.2-inch) backseat entertainment kit and 12-speaker surround sound system.
Regarding Honda's price points, the MSRP figures stretch from $27,800 to $43,250.